In an attempt to prevent a sectarian-rooted, inter-provincial quarrel from developing further, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered at least two detainees, who were arrested in connection with Monday’s Nukhaib Massacre, released immediately. He declared the argument “a small storm which is now over” and said that the prisoners were freed due to lack of evidence. However, talks over the massacre and subsequent arrests continued well into Saturday, and about four detainees remain in custody.
On Monday, a bus transporting Shi’ite pilgrims from Karbala province to a shrine in Syria was stopped at a fake checkpoint near the village of Nukhaib, in the predominantly Sunni province of Anbar. Uniformed gunmen separated women, children and an elderly man from the 22 murder victims, who were then driven to another location where they were killed.
In the days following the massacre, a military unit from Karbala — reportedly sent by P.M. Maliki — traveled to Anbar and arrested several suspects, possibly including two Sunni imams. Conflicting numbers of detainees were announced shortly after the arrests, a typical occurrence in Iraq. The number now officially stands at only eight.
Still, authorities in Anbar denounced the arrests as “sectarian” and demanded the release of all the detainees. Hundreds of civilians also demonstrated against the arrests, but the prime minister asked Iraqis to ignore these attempts at stirring up sectarian tensions. According to Maliki, a Sunni motorist was also killed on that stretch of road earlier the same day, marking the combined attacks as non-sectarian. Adding to the claim, the bodies of two border guards were later found less than a kilometer from the site of the massacre. One guard was from Karbala, but the other was from Anbar province.
Earlier, though, Maliki had also criticized the complaints from Anbar officials as “irresponsible.” But, it is no secret that relations between Anbar officials and the central government have been strained at best. To further calm current tensions, however, a senior security delegation led by Defense Minister Saadun al-Dulaimi is in Anbar today to discuss the security situation. The group will then travel to neighboring Karbala to meet with officials there. Four detainees remain in custody.